The Del-Vikings (also known as The Dell-Vikings) are an American doo-wop musical group, who recorded several hit singles in the 1950s, and continued to record and tour with various lineups in later decades. The group was notable for being one of the few racially integrated musical groups to attain success in the 1950s.
The Del-Vikings were formed in 1955 by members of the United States Air Force stationed in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, with Clarence Quick, Kripp Johnson, Don Jackson, Samuel Paterson, and Bernard Robertson. Because all of the members were in the armed forces, the group constantly ran the risk of being disrupted by members being stationed in other places. This happened soon after the group’s forming when Paterson and Robertson were sent to Germany. They were replaced by baritone David Lerchey, the group’s first white member, and tenor Norman Wright. Norman Wright had started a group with Lawrence “Prince” Lloyd called The Valverteens from Amarillo Air Force Base,Texas before joining The Del-Vikings.
The origin of the band’s name is unclear. Some sources say that the band members had read about Vikings with the prefix “Del” being “added to give the group name an air of mystery.” Another suggestion is that Clarence Quick had known of a basketball team in Brooklyn, New York, called the Vikings and had suggested the name. The name may also have originated from the popular Viking Press, publisher of paperbacks that group members liked to read.
Originally signed to Fee Bee Records, their first hit came in 1957 with “Ultra High Fidelity” (Dot EP DEP 1058) followed by the Wright-led “Come Go with Me”. The group quickly found itself in greater demand following the release of “Come Go with Me”, which propelled the group into the Top 10 on Billboard’s pop chart. It sold over one million copies, and was awarded a gold disc. Soon after, Jackson left and was replaced by Gus Backus, the group’s second white member.
All of the group members, other than Kripp Johnson, had been under 21 when they had signed their recording contract with Fee Bee (a tiny Pittsburgh label, which was later distributed by Dot Records). Having signed the contract as minors, they had the right to be released from it. In 1957, under the direction of their manager, Alan Strauss, they left to record at Mercury Records. Johnson, who was still bound to Fee Bee/Dot, stayed, thus creating two Del Viking groups. The original group replaced Johnson with Quick’s friend William Blakely and recorded the Backus-led song “Cool Shake”. Kripp Johnson constructed a new group with the returning Don Jackson, Chuck Jackson, Arthur Budd, and Ed Everette. This group recorded the Kripp Johnson-led “I’m Spinning”, billing themselves as the Dell Vikings. Dot also released “Whispering Bells”, with Kripp Johnson again featured on lead. Interestingly, the Dot label added an ‘s’ to his name which read “featuring ‘Krips’ Johnson”. It reached number nine on Billboard’s Top 100 chart. Around this time, some old Fee Bee demo tracks had been sold to an up-and-coming record company, Luniverse, who overdubbed a backing track on these accapella songs, which included an early version of “Come Go with Me”. The overdubbed demo was included as a track on an 8 song album subsequently released by Luniverse. Only one single was released from these Luniverse overdubs - #106 - “Somewhere Over The Rainbow”/ “Hey Senorita”.
Johnson’s Dot group had an extra advantage - he had been discharged from the USAF and his group could tour freely, while the original group needed to seek military leave in order to tour. Mercury sued, claiming it had sole rights to any spelling of the group’s name, and the Dell-Vikings briefly became The Versatiles, with singles being billed to “Kripp Johnson and the Versatiles” or “Chuck Jackson and the Versatiles”. The group broke up, with Chuck Jackson going on to a successful solo career. Meanwhile, the original group had begun to fall apart. Gus Backus was re-stationed, leaving the group a quartet. They broke up soon after. Quick restructured the group with new talent from the Pittsburgh area—lead tenor, Billie Woodruff, Willie Green, Douglass White,and Ritzy Lee. By the end of 1957, with the breakup of the “Dell” Vikings, Kripp Johnson returned to the original group, making them a sextet. They signed to ABC-Paramount. While the nucleus of the group was back, they weren’t able to chart any more hits, and the group split up in 1965.
The Del Vikings were back in 1970 with a near original line-up- Clarence Quick, Kripp Johnson, Norman Wright, Dave Lerchey, and William Blakely. The group re-recorded many of their old hits for Scepter Records; a new version of “Come Go With Me” made the Bubbling Under The Hot 100 chart in 1973. Things began to unravel quickly, however, as members began to leave once again. David Finley was in one of the lead spots from 1972-76. Another group, with lead singer Billy Woodruff, Ritzy Lee, Terry Young, Mona Lisa Young and Paul Moser lasted a short time in the mid-seventies. Later in the seventies, the group was Quick, Blakely, Louis C. Velez (whom Quick, now the only original member, selected to replace him when he was no longer able to perform), Arthur Martinez, and Jerry Williams.
In 1980, Kripp Johnson restarted the “Dell” Vikings with Dave Lerchey, 1960s member Ritzy Lee, and new member John Byas. Norman Wright rejoined this group in 1990. In the Del Vikings, Jerry Williams was replaced by Herbert McQueen.
Frank “Mingo” Ayers replaced William Blakely in the early 80s. He suffered some health problems after a short time and Dickie Harmon was brought in as a sub. The group lost its last original member, Clarence Quick, when he died in 1985. His place was taken by Lloyd “Butch” Phillips. Leroy Binns of the Charts supplied bass vocals for a time - later being taken over by Bernard “BJ” Jones (current member of the Dubs.) After Frank Ayers return, Dickie Harmon became a permanent member and Louis Velez took over bass vocals. They continued recording, and released an album in 1991 for BVM Records entitled Rock and Roll Remembered.
Kripp Johnson died in 1990. His group (John Byas, Dave Lerchey, Norman Wright, and Ritzy Lee) continued to perform at major resorts in the US, Canada, and Caribbean, as well as major cruise lines and various casinos. After the death of John Byas in 1999, Norman Wright left and reformed another group with his sons Anthony Wright and Norman Wright, Jr., and friend Mike Machado. Dave Lerchey retired but occasionally performed with this group (Lerchey died on January 29, 2005). This group was featured on the PBS special Doo Wop 50 in 1999, with Dave Lerchey.
Lerchey formed another Del Vikings group with his sons shortly before his death.
Frank Ayers would later be out of the Clarence Quick group at which time the group would reorganize with bassman Les Levine entering and Harmon taking over lead vocals. Ayers died in 1999. 2002 marked Dickie Harmon leaving the group and becoming a member of The Teenagers and the death of Lloyd “Butch” Phillips. Phillips, Harmon, and Binns had backed up Joe Grier as The Charts that year. By the mid 2000s, the line-up was Velez, Martinez, Les Levine, Ron Coleman, and Reggie Walker. Unfortunately, after a long battle with ill health, “Sweet” Lou Velez died on May 31, 2008. Obituary of Louis “Sweet Lou” Velez. Shelly Wengrovsky joined the group in the middle of 2008. During the latter part of 2009, Ron Coleman joined “The Channels”. Reggie Walker died on January 25, 2010. The addition of Lewis McMillan and Bobby Walker in April 2010 now completes the quintet.
Norman Wright died in April, 2010.
The group’s biggest hits have been used in such films as American Graffiti, American Hot Wax, The Hollywood Knights, Diner, Stand By Me, and Joe Versus the Volcano.
zip The Del-Vikings - 1956 Audition Tapes